Draft Canterbury Regional Public Transport Plan

It may have a boring name, but the content of this recently released report is dynamite for Christchurch residents. Ecan have released their 30 year public transport plan for consultation. There’s heaps in here to discuss, but I know you’re all busy people so I’ll try to keep things concise.

The document contains a 3 year plan, a 10 year plan, and a 30 year plan. I’ll just focus on the 30 year plan to keep things simple. In 2048, Ecan see the core public transport network looking like this:


The network will:

  • Be completely emissions-free.
  • Have 9 core services, 4 more than the current 5.
  • Have 2 rapid transit routes to the west and north (along the road corridor, not rail corridor).
  • Carry triple the passengers. At first this may sound quite ambitious, but remember it’s over 30 years. It is equivalent to 3.7% per annum, which I think feels more achievable when stated like that.
  • Service a population making 36 public transport trips per person per year by 2024. This is much lower than both Wellington (80) and Auckland (50), and similar to what Christchurch has at the moment (graph here). This seems very unambitious.
  • Service a population which has grown by 150,000 people, from 510,000 to 660,000. Again this sounds like quite a lot until you convert it to an annual growth rate of 0.9%, which sounds really low to me. If population growth ends up being faster than this we’ll need to implement public transport plans sooner.
  • Be a “Connected Network” rather than a “Direct Network”. Public transport planner Jarret Walker coined these terms here. We already switched to this in 2014 so it’s just continuing further down that route, rather than being a significant step-change.
  • Have a city shuttle.
  • Have double-decker buses.
  • Have a greater focus on maximising patronage, and a lesser focus on maximising coverage:Capture.JPG

There’s a lot to like about this plan; zero-emissions, more services at higher frequencies carrying more people. It would result in a much better network than what we currently have. My main concerns are:

  • I don’t think it’s ambitious enough. It seems to be based on an expectation of population growth of less than 1% annually, and has no plans to grow patronage per capita whatsoever in the first 6 years. I think we should be aiming to do more than this.
  • It’s unclear what frequencies are planned. In one part it says core routes will stay at 15 minute frequencies, which is generally considered the bare minimum for a core route in a connected network. Switching to higher frequencies would have big benefits, as I argue in my previous post here. In another part of the report it says that some routes may go to 10 minute frequencies. I think this is better and should be the minimum for all core routes. Frequencies may be boring to report on, but they are absolutely critical to how usable any public transport service is (the most important factor according to some), especially so in a “connected” network that asks people to transfer for a lot of their trips.
  • The additional 4 core routes are all radial routes. This is just my speculation but, given the success of the orbiter, I wonder if another orbital route would provide more value than 4 more radial routes.
  • I don’t think the measures they use for accessibility are that useful. The key measure is the proportion of households within 30 minute trip of a key activity centre. I would’ve thought most of Christchurch would already have this, but also I think a public transport network that does nothing but achieve this goal is one that would not add much to our city. I would like to see a more holistic measure; something like the number of jobs that each house in Christchurch can access within a 30 minute PT commute. There is lots of international research that shows this is an important measure that correlates closely to the overall wellbeing of an area (Bertaud). It’s the key measure Auckland use in ATAP (with the exception that they used a cut-off of 45 minutes). It wouldn’t be particularly difficult to implement here and I think would be a much better measure of how well the public transport network is contributing to a succesful and prosperous Christchurch.
  • Heavy rail is conspicuous by its absence. There is a somewhat vaguely worded statement that I’m not sure how to interpret. Is it saying that heavy rail has been rejected?
    We’re often asked about using the existing train lines for a passenger rail service from the north and southwest. This plan provides the capacity to consider all the options for rapid transit in our future. By protecting appropriate corridors for public transport, we will be ready to respond to customer demand and evolving technology to deliver sustainable rapid transit into our city. Feasible, lower cost, environmentally sustainable rapid transit options are likely to become available long before our bus service is at capacity, giving us more choice and flexibility. In the meantime, more buses and better service on the core lines will help to build that demand.”
  • There’s a lot of other potential options which aren’t in there, and it’s unclear if they’ve been considered in any detail or not. For example rapid transit to the airport as the Greens proposed, to the east as was suggested for the red zone, to the south as I speculated on last week, a north-south bus rapid transit line as Brendon Harre has previously proposed. I don’t necessarily think these are all good ideas, but it’s important to know whether they have been (a) considered and rejected, or (b) not considered. If they have been rejected it would be interesting to know why.

That’s my initial thoughts anyway. I’d be keen to hear your thoughts in the comments. Also Ecan are currently taking submissions so get yours in now. If you are a Christchurch local it’s really important to the future of your city. Even if you’re not, still feel free to have your say as it does affect everyone to some degree (e..g through climate change, spending of your taxes, wellfare of your fellow countrymen/women… etc). Submissions here.

PS If you’re interested in further reading, I recently discovered this blog here https://transportactionchch.blogspot.com/, and also this facebook group https://www.facebook.com/ptuaNZ/, which both talk about the plan.


6 thoughts on “Draft Canterbury Regional Public Transport Plan

  1. I definitely agree with using Bertaud as a measurable target, either- the number of workplaces households can access, or alternatively the number of employees that workplaces have available to them, in a timeframe of 30 or 45 min. Bertaud shows there is still productivity benefits accrue up to 60 min for a one-way commute, but the most benefit is for 30 minute commute time.

    I agree the focus of rapid should be the northern and south west corridors because that is where the population and transport growth will occur. But it seems silly not to use the under utilised rail corridor which goes in both directions.

    I would add a north south BRT route from Brougham street to Edgeware Road -using the existing Buchan and Manchester Streets. This would create a rapid transit exchange at Moorhouse Ave if a tunnel or bridge went from Buchan to Manchester St so that buses can connect with trains. We could call it the Moorhouse Exchange or MX for short.

    This has the advantage of connecting a Moorhouse Exchange with the Bus exchange -with a direct quick service with very high frequency (all the south bound buses could take this route).

    Manchester Street and Buchan St is not as busy as Riccarton and Papanui roads -so they will function better as BRT routes -over time motor vehicles could be educated to take other routes unless they have to pick up/drop off on the BRt route.

    The BRT buses provides an alternative less space hungry transport mode to directly counter the effect of induced demand coming from the northern and southern motorways.

    Having two rapid transit corridors (suburban train stations and BRT) means more areas that are highly desirable for intensification -which will soak up some of the 150,000+ predicted population growth (I think the growth will be higher -I suspect Greater Christchurch growth rate will be almost as high as Auckland’s -as a percentage).

    But any growth that is on the periphery in greenfield areas can either be catered for by the suburban train system of the BRT system that can use the motorway system to quickly access greenfield areas -especially if the motorway system is kept free flowing by congestion road pricing. So greenfield or brownfield transit oriented developments would be the main way Greater Christchurch provides housing for population growth.


  2. I’m currently analysing RPTP in detail but interested in your comment about another orbital route needed. IMO many of these link routes should be folded into a second orbital route. I have yet to figure out the details of the new connector or core routes they are proposing and what they actually add to the system.


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